Select Committee on Work and Pensions Eighth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  We were told by a DWP Minister repeatedly in oral evidence that the Green Paper In work, better off: next steps to full employment would include a response from the Government to David Freud's proposals for benefits reform. It does not, which means that a key opportunity to consult on these proposals has been lost. We ask the DWP why the Committee was given misleading information, and what changed between Mr Plaskitt giving evidence to us on 18 June and the publication of the Green Paper on 18 July. (Paragraph 11)

2.  We welcome the Minister's offer to provide a 12-18 month timeline for the proposals outlined in the Green Paper and how they sit alongside existing initiatives. We recommend that the Government makes this additional document available before the consultation process ends on 31 October 2007. (Paragraph 14)

3.  We feel that the Government has yet to prove that increasing conditionality for lone parents is the best way to help them to get back into the labour market. We therefore recommend that DWP sets out the evidence base for its proposals, demonstrating the significantly positive impact this policy will have on the lone parent employment rate and on lone parents themselves, and explaining on what grounds the age of seven has been chosen. (Paragraph 24)

4.  In 2005-06 40,300 lone parents were sanctioned for not attending a work focused interview (WFI). We are concerned that so many lone parents are failing to attend, particularly when conditionality is only attached to attending the WFI rather than on finding employment. We recommend that the Government undertakes close analysis of why such high numbers of lone parents are prepared to face sanctions rather than attend a work focused interview. (Paragraph 25)

5.  We welcome the DWP's emphasis on ensuring that lone parents going back to work are better off than they were on benefits. It is not right - and it is ultimately unsustainable - to push people off benefits but leave them mired in poverty. However, to translate this laudable aim into reality lone parents must know how much they need to earn to ensure that they are better off in employment. If the Government is to follow the Australian model where lone parents are only obliged to accept an offer of employment which makes them financially better off working, the number of Better-Off Calculations conducted must be increased and DWP must make the necessary resources available to Jobcentre Plus for this. (Paragraph 29)

6.  The Green Paper does not explore how the Government's proposals will impact upon lone parents with disabled children but does seek views on this as part of the consultation process. We urge the Government to assess fully the impact of increased conditionality on lone parents with disabled children and ensure that appropriate and flexible employment support and opportunities are developed for them. (Paragraph 38)

7.  We urge the Government to ensure that local employment strategies include appropriate support for those from ethnic minorities who are not in work to access labour market opportunities, ensure that work is done with local employers to achieve this, and include specific targets for achieving this objective. It is important that the successes of the Ethnic Minority Outreach Programme are sustained in broader local strategies. (Paragraph 43)

8.  We agree with the Minister that the DWP needs to explore ways to assist disabled people, particularly those with mental health difficulties, to find and sustain work. We agree that local partnership working is vital and ask DWP to clarify its role and responsibilities in brokering local relationships, and set out which Department is taking the lead in the various cross-government initiatives which are underway. (Paragraph 46)

9.  We welcome the introduction of the personalised New Deal, as advocated by this Committee in a number of our reports, particularly given that this programme will incorporate the principles of Building on New Deal, the flexible employment support programme that, despite initial intentions, was never piloted. (Paragraph 50)

10.  We welcome the introduction of the personalised New Deal but we urge the Government to ensure that the rationalisation of existing programmes is carefully planned, ensuring that there are no gaps or overlaps. (Paragraph 53)

11.  We are concerned that there remain a number of unanswered questions about what will happen to existing contracts for the New Deal programmes. We ask the Government to clarify the transitional arrangements and how they will impact upon customers, contractors and Jobcentre Plus staff as a matter of urgency, particularly given DWP's troubled history in this area. We reiterate the importance of ensuring that contracting procedures are transparent and encourage efficiency and accountability amongst programme providers. (Paragraph 54)

12.  We welcome a focus on retention and progression in the Government's welfare-to-work policy but there is little evidence that the DWP has considered in any detail how this will be reflected in providers' contracts or in the type of support available on employment programmes. There are no consultation questions in the Green Paper on this issue and we believe that the Government has missed a key opportunity to canvass the views of experts and stakeholders. (Paragraph 58)

13.  We welcome the Government's commitment to co-ordinating employment and skills strategies. We repeat the conclusion in our report on the Government's Employment Strategy that assisting people who are out of work and have low skills to undertake education or training is crucial to improving their ability to sustain employment in a competitive labour market. (Paragraph 61)

14.  We welcome the introduction of an adult careers service to support jobseekers in returning to the labour market. We recommend that the Government ensures that this service adds value to the role of Jobcentre Plus Personal Advisers and that joint-working strategies are developed early so that customers have easy access to high quality careers and employment advice. (Paragraph 64)

15.  We ask the Government to set out the specific measures it plans to introduce to tackle the issue that disabled people account for a third of all those without formal qualifications; and to explain why this was not covered in its response to the Leitch review. (Paragraph 67)

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